Author, Pierce Word
Pierce Word was born in Chicago and completed his BA in Middle Eastern Studies at the American University in Cairo. Upon returning to the States, he pursued graduate studies at the University of Chicago, as well as Boston University. Over a 3 year period, he researched and cross-referenced speeches, letters and diaries of the American presidents, and compiled a collection of presidential quotations, the largest published collection to date. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois.
DR: Right off the bat I just want to share that the further I go into your story the question that remains in my head is: "Why? Why did this happen to you? So, that is the backdrop for me but I want to start out by asking you: What happened?
DR: I'm just going to dive right in by asking how is it that you came about writing a book on President's quotes?
PW: From an early age I always loved history and I loved writing. I always had it in the back of my mind that I would write something history related. Then one day in college, I was writing a term paper on American History. I was trying to conclude my paper with a profound quote and I thought, “Who would be a better person to quote Than a U.S. President for a U.S. history paper, right?
PW: To my amazement this country has tons and tons of books on American history, culture and yes, even Presidents, but a comprehensive exclusively on U.S. Presidential quotes was actually non-existent. So, it was at that moment that I decided to put wisdom to the old philosophists on paper.
DR: What kind of research did you have to do? What was it like researching this book given that there was really nothing out there?
PW: That was part of the experience and part of the fun. It did take me about three years to compile everything and to finally put it in the final format that composes the book. Basically what I did was to utilize local libraries here in Chicago and also the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. There are several Presidential libraries around as well that I utilized. My sources ranged from personal diaries of Presidents to their letters to newspaper articles to autobiographies. I just had to kind of utilize whatever sources of the Presidents and that formed the basis of my work. That was the first part.
Presidents speak a lot. They are always giving speeches or broadcasting something. So, the second part was to decide what exactly should I put in the book - the themes of the book. I guess that was more of a labor intensive process then just finding diaries and letters of Presidents because usually those are all archived.
For the themes, basically I was looking for hot button issues for Americans, issues that interested people and that they wanted to read and know more about. So, I visited surveys, polls, library catalogs just to see what were the issues out there that people had a lot of interest in. From those categories I pooled a bunch of categories. For example, the economy, love, politics, God – people are always trying to learn more about those themes. I eventually made those themes into the chapter headings in the book.
DR: From your experience, how much do you feel that what a President says, these moments of profundity, how much does that shape how we think as a culture? A couple quotes come to mind: “Ask not what your country can do for you” and Barack Obama's quote about blue states and red states in his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. How much do you think those kinds of Presidential quotes shape a culture?
PW: To a large extent it depends on how related the President is to the people. We've had some quite popular Presidents in the past and we've had some that have not been so popular. The relationship with the people makes a difference at the end of the day. If a President is someone that people look up to and see is a role model then whatever they say and do will speak volumes.
Barack Obama, to his credit, has a rock-star personality. A lot of the young generation can relate to him. His upbringing is something that a lot of people can relate to. He went to the usual process of getting an education, taking out loans, having to pay back loans and eventually through hard work, getting to where he is now. That rang a lot of bells for the younger generation. Also, he came into the White House playing basketball, listening to hip-hop, knowing Jay-Z – a lot of these things rang a bell with a lot of people. You can definitely see why people would consider his words, words of substance.
Wisdom From the Oval Office
This is the first comprehensive book that reveals how America's presidents weighed in on major issues, such as honesty, love, commitment, evil, tyranny, freedom, etc. Speakers, writers, and students of all ages will find this a must-have addition to their libraries. The quotes are offered in multiple locations, so that readers can use them for a variety of references. Such cross-referencing gives the reader ease and flexibility in locating and using these fascinating insights into America's past and present heads of state. The author has revealed the broad sweep of life that engaged our country's leaders and reflects how their quotations are as relevant today as they were when originally given.
DR: Do you think that there is a particular element or some particular thing that makes a quote stick in our psyche for decades?
PW: One thing about writing this book that I learned is these quotes range from the awe-inspiring to optimistic to being profound and even comedic to even quotes that you can sense frustration in the words. There are even some quotes where a President has a deep-rooted hatred for someone. I think at the end of the day, the reader will see that President's are simply human beings with human emotions and that they just happen to hold the highest office in the land.
DR: I guess that I would even argue that it is when they dare to be authentic or real in those moments where they are caught off guard and something happens that calls for them to be extraordinary, then they are forced to call upon their authentic selves. I would venture to say that is where some of the more lasting quotes or the quotes that kind of settle into our collective psyche have come from.
PW: I absolutely agree with you there. It shows Presidents for who they are. When they don't have a script in front of them and when they are speaking from the heart, people tend to grasp onto what they are saying.
DR: Do you think that speechwriters deserve a place in history given that they write what our President's end up saying?
PW: Many senior-level elected officials have speechwriters today. The Presidents are no exception to this. It's even said that Alexander Hamilton, the guy on the ten dollar bill, was actually the speechwriter for George Washington. Speechwriting has a long history n this country. It's been there since the founding penny of this country but there are times when Presidents are speaking without a script and something unexpected happens and they have to make a statement.
We have some very eloquent speakers. Definitely Obama. He is well versed. Reagan was quite good with words. Also Thomas Jefferson is known to be one of the most prolific writers in modern history. You definitely have well versed people in the Oval Office.
DR: Did you notice a common factor or did you observe common characteristics in the Presidents as you were putting the book together?
PW: It varied. Presidents just like people come from all walks of life. You have the wealthy inheritors of land to Presidents that were essentially raised on welfare and made it to where they were because of the sweat and blood that they put into the work. So you get people from all different backgrounds and different religious persuasions. You have some Presidents who were staunch Protestants and you have others who weren't as religious. You do get a whole breadth of Presidents but for the most part they did believe in some sort of supernatural entity.
Did you learn anything about yourself as a patriot as a result of writing the book?
PW: You know the Presidents definitely have a lot to say as a result of holding the highest office in the country. Their actions definitely have long-term repercussions whether they are positive or negative. Whatever goes through that office definitely affects all of us. It kind of humbles you.
The U.S. is one of the biggest powers of the world but when it started it was a foundling state that was trying to form relationships with other countries, other European countries. Actually the first treaty that the U.S. had was with, of all countries, Morocco, which just shows how humble beginnings can lead to great stature down the road. That was interesting to experience as I was writing this book and I think it relates to others that whatever your stature is in life the sky is the limit to the goals and success that a person can reach.
DR: Have these quotes deepened your sense of patriotism at all?
PW: I always had an appreciation for the U.S. and for the government. One of the things that actually expanded my appreciation was traveling. I've done a lot of traveling all over the world. I think a lot of us here just take things for granted. Many of the places I have been to, there really isn't due process of law (you are guilty until proven innocent). If a person committed something or is under suspicion there is no process to go through. It's just raiding their residence and taking them under arrest. In The U.S. we have due process that is applicable to all of the residents of this country. My travelling has expanded my horizons a lot.
DR: I can imagine.
What are you writing next Pierce?
PW: I'm working on a second book. It's kind of meant to be more of an inspirational handbook for readers. It's about the successful businessmen and women in America. I kind of model it after this first book Wisdom From the Oval Office where I am using their own words to illustrate their stories and their lives and what they had to do to reach the pinnacle of their financial success. It was meant to be an inspirational business handbook of sorts.
DR: And just as an example, who might one of the subjects be in the book?
PW: Rockefeller. Basically I am choosing individuals who grew up without much who went on to become one of the pioneers of industry and commerce in this country. We have some old names such as Rockefeller and Carnegie and James Gold and a few of these tycoons, all the way to present days and Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. It's an interesting book. People are always looking for something to raise their spirits and if its related to money that's an added plus as well...
DR: Plus we are always looking for a little nugget of wisdom that will help to make the journey easier.
PW: There is a saying by Warren Buffet that the best way to learn from experience is when you lose money on a project. Once you lose money on a project that teaches you a type of discipline that just reading a book or going to classes won't ever teach you. At the end of that he says it's always better to learn that particular lesson through someone else.
There is a lot people can learn from these stories and hopefully we will have a good audience.
DR: A hundred years from now what do you want to be remembered for?
PW: I guess simply just giving a good read to the audience. As you progress further I see a lot of us are getting hung up on life. Its such a fast paced life that we are living now and we don't take the time to relax and pick up a book. If not known for that at least I would like to be a catalyst in helping all of us get to that realization and attainment that there is more to life than just work. Sometimes we just need to step out of our hectic bubble and breath in some fresh air and read a good book.